New-look Tigers open with Stetson

Men's Basketball - Jaron Blossomgame

Photo by Mark Crammer

Men's Basketball - Jaron Blossomgame

CLEMSON — The plan is to play faster. The plan is to wear teams out.

The plan, starting Friday night hosting Stetson (7 p.m.), is to jump-start the scoring with defense and depth, and borrowing from football a bit, a little more pace.

“It’s not a complete overhaul, but there are some differences,” Brownell said. “We’re trying to play a little faster and we’re trying to do a few more things in terms of running a little more motion, as opposed to methodically playing the game to use our bigs and (limit) possessions.

Tigers open with Stetson

“I would like to play a little faster. Push it and have different types of ways to play and not just get locked in to one. I do think that’s going to work to our benefit.”

His Tigers had the defense down last season, ranking second in the ACC (60.1 PPG allowed), but they lost 10-of-11 to finish 13-18, with the worst scoring offense (61.5) since a pre-shot clock 1970-71 Clemson season.

Brownell attempts the bounceback with no seniors and essentially five newcomers, counting sophomore guard Devin Coleman and freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame returning from medical redshirt.

Starting on the wing, K.J. McDaniels is Clemson’s leading returning scorer (10.9 PPG) and rebounder (5) — and the ACC’s top shot-blocker (2.1). Over the offseason, the highflying junior earned invites to camps hosted by NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

“I’m really proud of him because he’s really improved in two years,” Brownell said. “He’s realizing more and more each day that he’s a leader of the team and understands that he has to do some things to make our team successful, whether it’s score or create for others.”

Coleman (6-2 205) joins a crowded guard group, with six Tigers — three with starting experience (57 starts) — competing for time at two spots. In the 2011-12 season, the Philadelphia, Pa. native emerged late as a freshman (6.8 PPG in the final eight games) and adds a much-needed offensive go-to.

“He has a real swagger to offensive basketball and shooting off screens and shooting the ball in,” Brownell said. “He has to improve defensively in some areas, but he’s a guy who comes in looking to shoot and wanting to shoot. We just have so many guys in those positions that it’s going to be a battle. His advantage is his ability to shoot the ball.”

In the paint, Clemson loses points and rebounds from outgoing Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, but they gain versatility in the former top-100 recruit Blossomgame (6-7 215).

“He can stretch the floor. He can knock down threes,” junior guard Damarcus Harrison said, who started 14 games last season. “And he’s strong enough play inside, so that’s going to help us a lot.”

Averaging 6.6 minutes per game last year, sophomore Landry Nnoko (6-10 250) takes the biggest jump into the starting five at center.

“Landry’s length and his smarts (are strengths).” Brownell said. “He’s a very smart player defensively. He’s really coming into his own on that end of the court. Offensively, he’s still a work in progress, and as much as anything, it’s confidence. His moves are much better.”

The ACC media at-large isn’t buying stock in a Tigers’ rebound, picking a next-to-last finish in the conference. The players have taken notice.

“It’s definitely motivation, especially for me,” McDaniels said. “If we’re having a bad practice, we have to remember we were picked 14th in our conference. We have to go out there and be the best we need to be.”

Clemson will face eight teams that made the 2013 NCAA tournament — eight games coming in conference play alone. The average win total for the Tigers’ ACC opponents last year? 20.

They are in the majority returning at least three starters (11), but after reloading on the recruiting trail, ACC-favorite Duke brings back only two.

“At the end of the day, this is the hardest league and if you don’t come to play, anybody can lose at any time,” Harrison said. “We saw that a lot last year. Because we were in a lot of games last year that we should have won that we ended up losing by one point.

“I don’t look at it as what they expect. I’m just like we have to bring our ‘A’ game every night and that’s what I look forward to in the ACC.”

Brownell and the Tigers are focused on the Stetson Hatters, however, for now.

“They have a lot of older players,” Brownell said. “I don’t think they’ll be in awe of playing a high-major team. They’re a little bit like us, balanced, with a lot of guys who’ve contributed. (We’re) just excited to get started.”

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